For a group of young human rights defenders, home is Springville, half a world away from the genocide in Darfur, nowhere near the femicide in the Congo. Our country is led by a democracy, not a dictatorship like in Burma, and our people are free, unlike the millions of slaves in Southeast Asia.
But does that mean we shouldn't care? And does that mean, even if we do care, that we can't make a difference?
Mahatma Gandhi said, "You must be the change you want to see in the world!" So Springville Students for Human Rights is deciding to start right here, at home.
"Ripples of Hope" is a play written and produced by Springville Students for Human Rights, a group of middle and high schoolers devoted to learning about and helping the world around them. They focus not on charity, but sustainability through empowering and educating people.
In the past four years, the group's efforts have ranged from flood relief in Gowanda, to building schools in Sierra Leone and Afghanistan. Their goal is equal opportunity and essentially, peace.
"Ripples of Hope" began as just an idea. Using theater, the mission is to show people that they can do something about injustice, and they can help change the world.
Among many other sources, the students were educated and inspired by Kerry Kennedy's book "Speak Truth to Power," as well as the play adaptation by Ariel Dorfman. Both the book and play profiled individuals who have stood up to oppression. Each story is a testimony of both kindness and courage, proving that anyone can become a human rights defender.
When the group decided it was going to write and produce a play, the students followed a similar approach, except they decided to look at defenders who had motivated them personally. They selected human rights advocates from various time periods and parts of the world, each who dealt with a unique struggle and dedicated their life to what they believed in.
Student cast member Ashley Blidy, 14, chose Eleanor Roosevelt, the author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
"I admire her because she refused to be a bystander -- she took action and tried to influence others to do so as well," says Ashley.
Other defenders include Alice Paul (U.S. suffragette), William Wilberforce (British abolitionist), Irena Sendler (Holocaust rescuer) and Aung San Suu Kyi (Burmese pro-democracy leader).
Within the group, everyone has blended his or her strengths and passions to create a production composed of both readings and music. The result is powerful. The cast agrees that its goal is to encourage the audience to take action.
Ashley says, "I want to leave the audience thinking, 'What am I doing now?' 'What can I do to make a difference?'"
So, how can you get involved in defending human rights?
"Always strive to learn more," says Drew Beiter, teacher facilitator of the "Ripples of Hope" project.
In addition to the book "Speak Truth to Power," most of the cast members have read "Half the Sky" by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, a book about gender equality as a means to improve the lives of people everywhere.
Something teens can do right now is call 1-800-GENOCIDE: It's a free phone number that connects you to an elected official, letting them know that you stand up for the people of Darfur and South Sudan.
You can also try starting a human rights group at your school or church, or writing a letter to a public official.
Even after the "Ripples of Hope" production, the cast agrees it won't forget the lessons learned from working on the various roles and with each other.
"Already, it's really made a difference in my life," says Ashley. "Now, I want to be committed [to protecting human rights] This is what I want to do when I'm older."
She expressed interest in becoming a doctor or a lawyer for victims of genocide.
"Ripples of Hope" will be performed at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday in the Springville Center for the Arts. Tickets cost $5-$10. All net proceeds will go to the Springville Students for Human Rights 2010-11 fund to help build a school in Afghanistan. More information about "Ripples of Hope" is available at www.ripplesofhope.weebly.com or call 592-9038.
Caroline Francisco is a freshman at Springville-Griffith High School.